Documenting Your Law Firm’s Systems: A Lightning-Quick Introduction to Process Mapping

If your firm isn’t performing as well as you’d expect, and you know you need to implement changes, it’s critical that you first understand how to map out these changes and what’s going to happen throughout the process. Known as “process mapping,” this pictorial representation of a process is made up of connecting arrows and graphical symbols that illustrate the activities and decision points that make up the process.

What is Process Mapping?

Confused? Let’s look at an example. If you were asked to describe how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to a group of people so that everyone understood, you could probably do so pretty easily. It’s a simple process that doesn’t have many decision points or steps, and most people are already familiar with it.

But what if you had to explain a more complex process with decisions to make and options, such as how to track key metric data for your law firm? You could probably still explain the process, but you’d have more success if everyone understood how to do it the same way.

Process mapping illustrates the full process so that the idea is understandable, visible and everyone in the firm can see it. It can also make the process easier to analyze, and your firm can better identify areas that are working and those that need improvement.

So, how does process mapping fit into your efforts? Here are the five key steps to transforming your firm:

  1. Define the “voice of the client” as well as the problem and why it needs to be solved. This typically involves a balancing of costs and benefits, achieving desired outcomes, delivery of legal excellence and high-quality service and the predictability of the process.
  2. Measure the process’ current performance using a process map. Establish a baseline to determine your firm’s current state before you implement changes. How are you going to know you’re improving if you have nothing to compare your efforts to?
  3. Analyze ways to improve the process. What is your goal? How can you get there? Is a certain step necessary? How can you maintain your focus on your goals?
  4. Implement and validate process changes. Develop new client protocols. Document new practices. Conduct training. Implement quality control procedures.
  5. Control the process to ensure it acts the way you intend. Repeatedly measure performance against the client’s goals and your standards.

Apply Process Mapping in Your Firm

According to David Skinner, attorney and co-founder of Gimbal Canada, an organization that works with law firms in process mapping and the optimization of business, administrative and legal processes, “Process maps serve multiple purposes. They allow you to capture the best practices of your top lawyers. Knowledge is a firm’s greatest asset; capturing it is virtually priceless. Mapping also allows you to better describe your approach and best practices to clients (an important marketing tool); train students, new associates, and lateral hires in your approach and your best practices; and estimate and price more accurately.”

So, what does this mean for you? How do you apply these ideas to your own firm? When you first start to process-map your firm, take the time to observe the process. Are you trying to gain new leads? Watch the receptionist to see how she handles incoming calls. Are you struggling to follow-up with clients? Analyze your emails and letters to determine if something’s missing in your communications.

Talk with any team member who is already actively involved with the process and who regularly performs the tasks. These people have the most experience with the process, and they will be able to give you the most complete description of the steps. Ask the person to describe the process from beginning to end and from end to beginning to make it easier to identify the paths throughout the process.

When you’re just setting out to process-map your firm, you don’t need fancy software. Use paper, pencil and erasers because, let’s face it, you’ll be making many changes. As your staff thinks through the process, they will remember steps or details that you’ll need to note in the draft. Once you have the process drawn out, you can then finalize it in software such as Word, Excel or PowerPoint if you choose.

Process maps are flexible tools that you can use to better understand any process. Stick to one level of detail in your map, draw the map in one direction and keep the symbols the same size to convey equal importance.

Building Better Business Systems For Law Firm Owners